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5 March 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
(Albert Sapohatan courtesy of Simon Barber.)
Ranua hit the water cleanly in a slanting dive, and as he reached the lowest point of the dive he could feel the water pressing on his ears. Two kicks and he started for the surface, letting air out gradually until he broke the surface. Flinging seawater from his headfur and face, he spotted the swimmer that he had seen from the patrol boat, and struck out toward him.
The fur was another canine, and he looked as though he was exhausted as Ranua swam up to him. “Are you okay?” Ranua asked, patting the fur on one shoulder.
The beagle nodded, and Ranua said, “Just relax. I’ve got you,” and he rolled the fur over onto his back, hooked an arm across his chest and started swimming back to the patrol boat.
One of the craft’s lifeboats had been lowered, and Ari stood in the bow with a life preserver and a rope. “Ranua!” he shouted. “Over here!” He waved, and the boat moved toward him close enough for him to grab at the rope Ari threw to him. Ranua helped the beagle aboard, then pulled himself up over the boat’s gunwales.
The fishing boat was a total loss, its hull ripped open by striking the reef. Its crew had been relatively new to the waters, having come from the northern coast of Main Island, and hadn’t picked up an updated chart. The beagle, it had turned out, had tried to meet the patrol boat partway. Both rescuers and rescuees had been taken inside and were now in the patrol boat’s mess room, warming up with coffee laced with some home-brewed alcohol.
The lieutenant stepped into the compartment and walked over to Ranua, who sat in a corner with a towel around his neck and a mug of hot coffee in his paws. “Milikonu,” he said, “are you feeling all right?”
Ranua gulped his coffee and replied, “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Come with me,” and he headed for the door, the wirehair terrier following him. When they reached the commanding officer’s tiny office, the lieutenant sat at his small desk and glared at the younger fur. “Now, the Rules forbid me from chewing you out in public,” he said, “which is why we’re in here. That was one of the ten stupidest things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the Syndicate for ten years now.”
“Yes, sir,” Ranua said, standing at attention, his tail and ears down.
“Good, you do realize that what you did was wrong. In the future, remember this – jumping in to save someone is commendable, but let someone on deck know what you’re doing first. That way, you can be saved yourself if something goes wrong. Understood?” he asked.
The lieutenant nodded. “Stand easy,” he growled, and added, “Since neither you nor the other students are full-time yet, I can’t fine you, or dock your pay. But I am going to note your actions on my patrol report. Dismissed,” and after he watched the terrier walk out he looked up and grinned as the boatswain knocked on the bulkhead. “Come.”
The woman stepped in. “How did it go, Jack?” the otter asked.
“I think he’s learned his lesson,” the lieutenant said, cocking his head at her and grinning. “I doubt he’ll repeat his mistake – all six of them are bright kids.”
With two days remaining before their two weeks’ training ended, the six students gathered again at the seaplane hangars for another lecture, a day after having had parachute training. This time their instructor was one of the fighter pilots based on Spontoon, and she ran an affectionate paw over the leading edge of her plane’s wing before facing the group. The slight morning breeze ruffled her gray tortoiseshell fur.
“Right,” she said, her voice holding a trace of British Canadian accent, “I’m Lieutenant Johnson, and I’m assigned to give each of you a short hop in my baby here.” The feline patted the plane’s wing. “For those of you who may not be familiar with it, the squadron here on Moon Island flies the KV-9,” she explained. “It was our front-line fighter two years ago, and now it’s on its way to being phased out. This is the two-seater training model, the KV-9a, and you’ll be taking turns flying in it. Now, who wants to go first?”
Petty Officer Mills stepped up and spoke to her in a low voice briefly, and the pilot waved a paw as the students started to vote on who was to go first. “Mr. Milikonu, you’re first,” Mills said as she pointed at Ranua and waved him forward.
The others looked at him, and Ranua felt his ears droop as he came forward to stand by the plane’s wing. The pilot started her orientation lecture, paws shaping the air as she talked.
The craft was a low-wing monoplane, painted gray with a rather stubby fuselage bearing the RINS roundel – a circular emblem holding the diagonally-divided red and black of Rain Island, with an anchor superimposed. Two businesslike machine guns poked out just behind the propeller, and it sat fairly low to the water on its twin floats. Since it was a training model, it had two cockpits, one behind the other.
“Now, the reason this plane’s being removed from front-line service is because it’s a bit underpowered and slow compared to the designs being tested elsewhere,” the pilot was saying. “Its top speed is a bit over two hundred miles per hour, so you can guess what we hope to be getting to take its place.” She grinned. “The one saving grace it has is that it’s quite maneuverable. Which I shall now demonstrate,” and she gestured for Ranua to accompany her as she preflighted the plane. Finally she directed him into the student’s seat, and made certain that he was properly strapped into both his parachute and his chair. “You shouldn’t need a parachute for this,” she said loudly enough for the others to hear. “I’ve done this dozens of times. But we do like people to at least feel safe.” She laughed as she shouldered her way into her own parachute and got into her cockpit as two ratings untied the plane.
Ranua sat nervously in his seat as the propwash caused his ears to flap, and he pulled his goggles down to protect his eyes as Lt. Johnson steered the plane into its takeoff position. “Relax,” she yelled over the engine, “I’ll be gentle with you,” and whatever else the feline might have said was eclipsed by a roar as the KV-9a sliced through the water and took off.
The little plane leveled off at five hundred feet and circled Moon Island as Johnson asked, “How are you liking this, Milikonu?”
“It’s not bad, ma’am,” he replied, forcing himself to relax a bit. After all, the pilot was an instructor; he was (he guessed) perfectly safe.
“Aw, come on then, lad,” the pilot said, “I heard you like to take the plunge now and then.” With that, she pulled the plane’s nose up, and as it stalled she heeled it over in a hammerhead dive.
The plane shot earthward as Ranua’s heart leaped into his throat, blocking his stomach’s attempt to escape. As he stared at the approaching fields and hills he found that he couldn’t even scream.
The pilot eased back on the stick, taking the plane out of its dive. It was only a momentary respite, as she then snapped the stick over. The fighter executed three neat rolls before she leveled off again. “You okay up there?” she asked in a cheerful tone.
He shuddered, breathed a prayer and said, “Yes.” He was glad that he’d only had a light breakfast.
She laughed. “Right then. We’ll do this properly now. Take hold of the stick and put your feet on the rudder pedals …” And for the next twenty minutes she was all business, patiently teaching him the basics on how to fly the plane. Finally she flew back to the base, landed and taxied back to the hangar.
Ranua jumped down off the wing and immediately collapsed to the ramp, his legs turned to rubber. Johnson stood over him and laid a paw on his shoulder. “You going to be all right?” she asked.
He nodded. “Just need to calm down a bit,” he said as he slowly regained his feet.
She smiled and swatted him on the back. “Good lad,” she said. “Get out of your parachute. Next!” she yelled toward the remaining five students.
The rest of the day was taken up by having each of the students go through much the same experience, but the pilot saved the aerobatics for last. Two of the students had to clean the plane after it landed, while Halli had leaped out of the cockpit with a look of sheer joy on her face. Finally the pilot and their petty officer stood facing the group. “Well,” Johnson said, “I hope that those of you who may be interested in joining the Syndicate’s air arm will only find your appetites whetted by today’s flight.
“We will soon be having new planes in the inventory, that are faster and more maneuverable than this one,” and she gestured at the plane with her tail. “But while we’re waiting for the newer planes, we have these to defend your islands,” and she gave the plane a fond smile. “Yes?” she asked as Halli raised a paw.
“How does the KV-9 measure up to the Demon?” she asked, and Johnson laughed.
“So, been doing our homework, have we?” she asked the young rabbit. The older woman grinned. “The Hawker Demon’s currently used in some of the British dominions – in fact, you can see them at New Penzance. The KV-9’s got a speed advantage over it, and we can fly rings around it as well. In my opinion, maneuverability’s a bit more important than speed when you’re mixing it up.” She nodded approvingly at Halli for her question, then asked, “Any other questions? No? Petty Officer Mills, they’re all yours again.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Mills looked her charges over as the last one finished shedding his flight suit. “Anyone for lunch?” she asked gleefully, and several of the students promptly looked ill. The canine snorted. “Oh, come on,” she urged, “it wasn’t that bad. Besides, we’re at the firing range this afternoon, and some more classes tonight after supper. Fall in!” she ordered.
Two days later Ranua and the other five furs stood at attention by the naval stores building. Petty Officer Mills looked them over one final time, then smiled and said, “At ease. You’ve all done well, and had this been one of the usual training courses, I would have to give you all good marks.
“I look forward to serving with you in the future, and I’ll be seeing all six of you in about another two weeks before you leave for Seathl.” She barked, “Attention! Dismissed!”
The six headed into the building to collect their civilian clothes and Ranua asked Halli, “So, what did you think of this?”
The rabbit grinned widely. “I’m looking forward to this, Ranua. How about you?”
“Can’t wait,” the terrier replied.
December 19, 1936
Albert Sapohatan blinked suddenly, wondering at first how his coffee mug had managed to shatter itself against the far wall of his office. Oh yes, the ferret realized, he had thrown it there, in a sudden burst of anger as soon as he had opened the envelope on his desk. He also realized that his heart was galloping in his chest and his palms had gone sweaty.
He forced himself to relax, and he sat down slowly and regarded the envelope again. It was addressed simply to Post Box Nine, like so many other messages that crossed his desk. But it was after opening it that he had thrown the coffee mug.
The envelope contained what appeared to be a simple memo, just a few lines on one side of the single sheet of paper. He didn't know the content, at least not at first, because it took him a second to recognize the language.
The memo had been typed in the S-3 cipher.
Slowly collecting himself, the ferret looked at the far wall, where cold coffee pooled around the shards of his cup. Almost mechanically he put the memo back into the envelope, and he glanced up as his secretary entered, looking concerned. "Boss," she said, "what - ?"
"Never mind," Sapohatan said. He picked up the envelope and held it up to her. "Please have this deciphered and get it back to me as quickly as possible." The look in his eyes caused the rabbit to merely nod and she took the envelope, closing the door behind her as the ferret sat back down.
Minutes later she came back into the room and put the deciphered memo on his desk. Her ears were standing straight up and quivering. He nodded, and she left the office as he picked it up and read it:
“18 December 1936
To: Albert Sapohatan
From: Franklin Stagg
This is to advise you that I have discovered some issues of security relating to your current cipher. I would be pleased to answer any questions regarding the cipher, and offer suggestions for remediation.
I assure you there are only two copies of this memorandum, and no other disclosures have been made.
Very truly yours, Franklin J. Stagg”
The name of the sender had not been enciphered, which (a fugitive thought pointed out) made it that much easier to discover who had sent him the message.
Sapohatan grimaced as he read it, and his anger slowly evaporated, replaced with an edge of cold fear. The S-3 cipher was the most recent and best-guarded code that Spontoon had. How Stagg had broken it was irrelevant for now; what mattered was that he had done it. The most important question was which nation had also done it, with more resources and personnel than one crippled buck working alone?
He resolved to have a discreet word with the buck, as quickly as possible.